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Wednesday, 11 May 1994
Page: 628


Senator JONES —My question is directed to the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs. Given the government's commitment to ensuring that all Australians share in the economic recovery and have equal access to government programs, can the minister inform the Senate as to how reforms in the 1994-95 budget will benefit Australians of non-English speaking background?


Senator BOLKUS —I thank Senator Jones for his question. At the outset let me say that, unlike that of the opposition, the Australian government's budget is both a social and economic document. Theirs would be purely an accounting one—we have seen more signs of that in the last 24 hours. We have delivered a budget which has at its core the principle of social justice for all Australians and an ongoing commitment to remove barriers that might still stand in the way of this objective. The government's commitment to the one in four Australians of non-English speaking background is evident not only in my own portfolio but also across other portfolios, most notably the landmark reforms in mental health. I am particularly pleased that we have been able to pay attention to migrants arriving in Australia as refugees or as humanitarian cases, having special needs as they settle into Australian society.

  Some of the initiatives are in the area of citizenship. One of the things that sets Australia apart from less successful multicultural societies is the fact that after only two years of permanent residence here, all migrants can take up Australian citizenship. There are an estimated one million people who are eligible to take up citizenship but who have not done so.

  In this budget the government has allocated $3 1/4 million for 1992-95 and an extra $454,000 for each of the following three years to undertake a major promotional campaign. This, of course, complements my announcement in November last year that the Joint Standing Committee on Migration would conduct a wide-ranging review of Australian citizenship and the laws which govern it.

  In terms of settlement assistance, it is important—and it has been recognised by this government that it is important—to give assistance to overcome settlement problems. Within my portfolio there will be an increased focus on non-English speaking background migrants and humanitarian entrants affected by unemployment and industry restructuring. Grants funding for migrant community services will increase by $2 million annually on an ongoing basis, taking a two-pronged approach: firstly, $1 1/4 million will be provided for new projects to facilitate access to training for job seekers in their communities; and, secondly, we are targeting people arriving under the humanitarian program, particularly newly arrived groups who have little or no community based support, and $750,000 has been made available to address the needs of such new refugee groups. As well as that, some $625,000 will be provided to strengthen the coordination and settlement services through the non-government sector and to improve the focus of such services on the particular needs of humanitarian entrants.

  I was particularly pleased that, together with my colleague the Minister for Human Services Health, we paid particular attention in this budget to the mental health needs of people of non-English speaking background, particularly refugees and humanitarian cases. Many refugees have survived torture and trauma, and they are likely to have long-term health and psychological problems as a result. This budget provides $5.2 million to a program to help such people, with $0.9 million available in the next financial year. These funds to the national torture and trauma network will provide support and advocacy to help survivors use existing services.

  As well as recognising the particular needs of refugees, the waiting period to qualify for pensions will no longer apply as from January 1995. These measures in the budget are some of many. They are also some of many which build on the initiatives of the Working Nation document of last week. They are central to the government's ongoing commitment to social justice and access and equity to people in this area.